Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Younger music fans may recognize Ahmet Ertegun as the hesitant record company executive who, as portrayed by Curtis Armstrong in the Oscar-winning motion picture Ray, gave Ray Charles his first real break in the music business. If that was his only claim to fame, his place in music history would be assured. Of course, this is only the beginning of Ertegunís story.
A Turkish ťmigrť who came to America as a child in 1935, Ertegun, along with his older brother Nesuhi, began a small record company in 1947. He arguably discovered and developed the careers of more important recording artists than anyone else in the latter half of the 20th century. Along with Ray Charles, Ertegunís stable of artists included Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Led Zeppelin, Ben E. King, and hundreds more. A quick look through his resume defies conventional logic. How could this small, seemingly unassuming man with big glasses, a dark suit, and bad teeth have been such an influential figure in music? Ahmet Ertegunís appearance always seemed so categorically unhip. Yet, he heard promise in Franklinís pounding gospel ó something that went far beyond what other labels had tried to tame and mold into a young, black Edith Piaf.
Examples of Ertegunís forward-looking taste abound. He may have appeared as if he was a "suit," but his ears and taste were always on the cutting edge as he searched for new sounds. Moving across eras, styles, and genres of music, Ertegun took Atlantic Records from being a regional R&B label to reigning as one of the most successful recording conglomerates in the world. Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built posthumously celebrates and explores Ertegunís legacy in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the labelís founding.
Narrated by Bette Midler, who also was a part of his astounding crop of talent, Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built traces Ertegunís career, beginning with the early days when he broke R&B acts, such as The Drifters, The Coasters, and Ruth Brown. Though the Ertegun brothers originally were fans of jazz, they brought their ethos to the recording of the rhythm and blues musicians that they so greatly respected. Teaming up with fellow Turkish ťmigrť Arif Mardin and producer Jerry Wexler, the Erteguns worked tirelessly to provide their artists with the best arrangements and creative atmospheres that were available. The appreciation shown by the musicians interviewed for this documentary is a testament to the dedication and taste that defines the Atlantic label.
Ertegun was instrumental in creating a market that allowed artists of color to cross into the mainstream. Beginning in the í60s, Atlantic ó often working in conjunction with local labels like Stax in Memphis ó created a market for R&B and soul music by breaking the careers of artists like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Percy Sledge. Although he primarily was recognized for making black music popular, Ertegunís own tastes were broad and almost impossible to define. For example, at a party in London for Wilson Pickett, a young Eric Clapton was noodling on the guitar while Pickettís regular guitarist was at the bar having a drink. After hearing just a few notes, Ertegun hired Clapton and began to produce and direct the career of his new supergroup Cream. He also brought together an outfit on paper that he decided to call the New Yardbirds. The ensemble later emerged as Led Zeppelin, a group whose history needs no further explanation. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were also one of his great, latter-day "blue-eyed bands."
Throughout Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built, the story of Atlantic Records is told beautifully. Ertegun himself is caught on camera, chatting with Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and dozens of other artists whose careers he helped to shape. When these musical icons sit down to talk with Ertegun, the combination of warmth and love that they show their mentor is palpable. Aside from his impeccable taste, Ertegunís success certainly also was due in part to his simple humanity and sense of humor. The portrait of Ahmet Ertegun that emerges in the film is of a man who never lost his love of a good tune ó no matter the style in which it was presented.
In addition to the contemporary interviews that were completed shortly before Ertegunís death in 2006 ó the result of a coma that was induced by a backstage fall after a Rolling Stones gig ó Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built contains enough vintage footage of Atlantic acts such as Aretha Franklin, Cream, and Led Zeppelin to satisfy anyone interested in the history of popular culture. Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built is an enjoyable and informative two-hour experience, and it is an important addition to any music fanís library.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box